PHILIP BUMP, The Atlantic Wire | APR 8, 2013
The 29,503,030 people who follow Barack Obama’s Twitter account might see his picture, see his name, see that little blue verified account badge and think they’re following the President — but it’s not him. All of the president’s named social media accounts, in fact, have been handed over to a non-partisan, not-for-profit group that isn’t overly concerned if you didn’t notice the transition. As the first sitting President with a Twitter account, the murky handover raises questions that didn’t exist ten years ago — can a politician legally hand over his valuable online identity to an outside group? is it ethical? — and makes clear federal regulators are unprepared to answer them.
Obama was one of the first politicians to recognize the potential of social media in communicating with voters. His Twitter account was created by a staffer on March 5, 2007, two months before he formally announced his presidential candidacy. Throughout that contest, his first term, and second campaign for the presidency, Obama’s campaign staff used it to share news about the president’s policy priorities and to try and engage Americans in his efforts. Then, in January, it handed the reins to Organizing for Action, a new entity that took over much of Obama’s campaign apparatus: website, social media accounts, email list — even the abbreviated shorthand of “OFA.” The organization updated the bios associated with the social media accounts (“This account is run by Organizing for Action staff”) and then kept tweeting and Facebooking, with a new emphasis on joining — and, ideally, contributing to — the new OFA. Without skipping a beat, a brand-new organization gained millions of followers on social media. It’s like the president, mid-conversation, handed his phone to a telemarketer who does a great Obama impression. Or, to be more accurate, one telemarketer — the campaign — handed the phone to another one.